Vodafone and Orange Take Rights to Spanish Soccer League Amid Antitrust Push

Cristiano Ronaldo - Levante UD v Real Madrid CF - H - 2011
David Ramos/Getty Images

The new deals mean telecom giant Telefonica will lose its monopoly to air Spain's star-studded La Liga at the end of this season.

Vodafone and Orange on Monday announced they have acquired rights to air matches from Spain’s star-studded professional soccer league, breaking the monopoly on La Liga matches held by Spanish telecom giant Telefonica.

The two mobile carriers signed deals with Mediapro to carry the company's BeIn Sports Laliga channel for the next three seasons. Previously, the channel was exclusive to Telefonica, which snatched up all rights to the current La Liga season for its pay-platform Movistar last summer for $660 million. BeIn Sports carries eight of the 10 La Liga played each week.

In January, Telefonica signed a new deal with Mediapro for rights to the next three seasons, through 2018, for $2.6 billion.

Monday's deals with Vodafone and Orange, which in addition to La Liga also include all matches of the inter-league King's Cup (Copa del Rey) competition, essentially dismantle Telefonica's original strategy, which was to be the exclusive service for Spanish soccer in the country.

But Spanish authorities have required Telefonica to break up its rights monopoly by offering its exclusive content to third-party competitors. This was a condition for approval of Telefonica’s takeover of Spain’s leading pay-platform Digital Plus in 2014. 

Vodafone acquired Spanish cable operator ONO around the same time as the Telefonica takeover in 2014, but Telefonica still dominates the market, with a 80 percent share of Spanish households.

Vodafone and Orange still have to separately negotiate with Telefonica for rights to air the "match of the week," a weekly game typically featuring one of Spain's top teams, Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. There was no comment as to how much Telefonica might ask for the big game, but government stipulations required they offer the match at a reasonable price. Mediapro paid the Professional Football League €1.9 billion ($2.17 billion) for the eight-game, three-season package. Telefonica paid an additional $856 million in December for rights to the match of the week for the next three seasons.